Rain falling on concrete road (2014-07)

Walking Home, week 16: Full circle


Day 106 – to Villaines-en-Duesmois

At breakfast we talk about my route from Vougrey. I mention that on the way to Lyon I will pass very close to the Abbaye Fontanay, but do not yet know whether I want to afford the € 10 entry fee for the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As I say goodbye, Christian with a smile put € 10 into my hand.
I reach Chaource for the second time around noon. A few minutes only I sit in the sun on the square in front of the church and tourist info before once again a heavy rain shower comes down. I look around. Posters announce fireworks occasion of the National Day tomorrow and live coverage of the World Cup final on a big screen right here on the square in front of the church for the evening. I wonder whether I could find tonight a budget hotel here. Or whether I should move on and see if Jacqueline and Marcel are at home in their mill in Arthonnay? I do not have her phone number. Therefore, it may be that – as with Marie and Denis yesterday – I end up in front of closed doors. And then? I have walked along the route before and know that there is no camping and no bars or restaurants around here. The only gîte I had seen in Arthonnay.
Postponing the overnight problem for the time being, I decide to call Villaines. It is still more than 50 km away, not feasible a a goal for tonight. But should Joe, Boyd and Jack take me in I would at least have a bed tomorrow. From their home I could reach Fontanay in two or three hours.
Joe recognizes my voice immediately. She sounds happy to hear from me and without hesitation offers a bed for tomorrow.
In an aside, she offers to pick me you up from somewhere…
My heart beats faster. That would be …
I carefully phrase the thought that flashes through my head: “Well, I do not know if that would be possible … But I would like to watch the match tonight … ¨
Without much fuss Joe makes a plan: ¨Boyd will pick up Jack from somewhere this afternoon. You just walk, as you would also do it otherwise. And I will give you a call to come and collect you.¨
I cosy warmth is filling in my belly.
And walk I do. Through the rain. Across the endless fields of Burgundy. Full of anticipation for an evening with a family.
Outside Villon, around four clock finally a text message from Joe: ¨Where are you?¨
Half an hour later, Boyd and Jack collect me in front of the church.
Before we get comfortable with a beer in front of the telly to follow events in Maracana, my hosts must fulfill their social obligations. Not only the traditional fireworks display takes place on the eve of 14 July. In most communities there is also a dinner for the villagers.
Jack and I stay behind to eat pizza and yogurt.
If you ask me in five, ten or twenty years ¨Where were you when Germany on the 2014 World Cup?¨ I will remember, relive the cozy, warm feeling in my belly and smile.

Day 107 – Villaines-en-Duesmois (with a short detour to the Abbaye de Fontanay)

I sleep a little longer, step out onto the terrace, drink a coffee, eat cornflakes. Further social obligations are awaiting my hosts. Jack follows the parade on TV, Joe and Boyd get ready for a short memorial service and the subsequent community lunch outside the town hall. Boyd bakes a loaf of bread for dinner. But before he takes me to Abbey Fontanay.
With a smile I hand the lady at the entrance Christian’s € 10 and dive into the world behind the monastery walls.
The peaceful valley and its building look back at a checkered history: engineering feats, religious work ethic, religious extravagance, decay, expropriation, conversion to a factory site, decay. With attention to detail the current owners (not the Church) are trying to restore the original state.
Walking through the extensive grounds surrounding the inner monastery complex, I find a group of boy scouts who have pitched their camp at a small spring lake. Instead of tents they have built simple bunks with long branches and tarp. Everything looks a bit improvised and anarchic, the beds not comfortable; one of the teenager is lying on a path in the sun, so I initially think, he has fallen or is sick. But he is sleeping. The whole thing reminds me of a scene from ¨Lord of the Flies¨, were these filthy children not proudly wearing their scout uniforms with badges and neatly knotted cloths.
Back in Villaines Jack and I now finally also invited to join the National Day celebrations.
I am a little disappointed when we arrive outside the mairie .
The remains of a generous lunch can be seen in a large party tent. Now everyone is eagerly awaiting the games . But nothing here suggests that this is a celebration on occasion on the birth of the nation. When asked about the lack of the colors Joe informs me, that the French associate their flag with the military and therefore only use it sparingly.
At least the games are fun:

    • Cut the sausage: In the original the meat product would be sent down a pipe. At the other end, the player is waiting, armed with a hatchet. If he manages to hit the sausage with the ax, as it leaves the tube, he gets to keep it. But since there have been a few accidents in the past, the sausage has now been replaced by a ping-pong ball and the ax with a hammer. But the winning prize remains a sausage, preferably a salami from the supermarket. The French!
    • Fishing for gifts: This game is only for the little ones. In a sandbox small gifts are buried. Only the loop peaks out off the sand. With an angel, the children try to catch a gift. Of course, everybody wins … A little to my displeasure there is a clear gender separation: boys are not allowed to fish for the pink ribbons as girls are not allowed to go for the green. The French!
    • Throw cans: The game is known internationally. I do not hit even once, even after several attempts.
    • Bowling: The 9 bowling pins are set up in a square more than one meter apart. The ball is made of concrete. One of the villagers tels us that decades ago, before the age of television (and long before the internet), a betting scene to this game had boomed in the village, with bets of several hundred euros (equivalent to today’s money). I have no idea why. For me it seems impossible to clear more than three pins with the three attempts allowed. The French!

After two hours, we say goodbye. On the way back through the village we stop at Madame Madeleine’s for the latest gossip from. Since she had a run-in with the then-Mayor a few years ago, she refuses to go to any of the events organised by the mairie. But she does sit in front of her house and wait with patience for the people returning from the festivities, who like to stay for a few minutes for a chat.

Day 108 – to Beaune

Lyon is almost 300 km away. Boyd helps me to shorten the distance by more than 50 km by giving me a lift towards Dijon. He wants to pick up a new couch from Ikea. I want to continue from Sainte-Marie-sur-Ouche to Beaune.
I walk for hours in an almost straight line along a ridge of a small mountain through a lonely forest. On the last third I meet the Saint James Way. The leads down the ridge and up the next mountain. It is only with immense difficulty that I manage to overcome the slippery slope in both directions with all my luggage.
Outside the forest, I look for a place for lunch. Boyd has again made me a sandwich, this time even with yesterday’s fresh bread. At the foot of a cross I find some shade and sit down.
Soon I am surrounded by a group of hikers. The more than a dozen sprightly pensioners come from Dijon and curiously ask me all kinds of questions. Finally, we say goodbye and I am left to feast on my delicious sandwich.
Barely half an hour later, I run into the group again at a cemetery. We take pictures and I learn that the water at cemeteries almost always of very good quality.
Soon after I discover Burgundy, as I had imagined it all along: Whereever the eye looks, vineyards stretch for miles and are advertised in every village.
In Beaune, I check into the campsite near the city center. Now that the summer holidays are in full swing in France, I note that the guest structure among the campers has changed. Where previously elderly Dutch and French couples and their mobile homes dominated, now more and more families with young children and students on bike tours have set up their tents.

Day 109 – to Chalon-sur-Saône

I do a short tour of the city and refill my paté supplies at the local Carrefour supermarket.
For a change, the day remains hot and dry. The path leads mainly along major roads.
In Fragnes I find a small bit of shade under a billboard. As I sit there, eating a granola bar, drinking water, a fat Audi stops next to me. The driver, in his late twenties, muscleous, where the food has not left a fat pad, gold chain, offers to take me into the city: ¨We can have a coffee.¨
After I have revealed that I am German, he replies that he also has lived in Berlin for several years. So we continue in German.
I reject the coffee with a polite smile. I’m afraid I know where this is going.
He had money, could book me a hotel for tonight.
I reject politely.
We could have coffee, then dinner together, if I wanted.
I don’t.
He asks why not, and provides the answer in the next short sentence, as he describes with NSFW words, how he imagines the rest of the evening.
Since when are prostitutes actually sporting a backpack, and sitting drenched in sweat, with bad hair and rather practical clothes on French country roadsides?
He finally gives up and moves on, not towards the city.
In Chalon-sur-Saone, I have almost already forgotten about the incident. More exciting news demand my attention: On the square in front of the McDonalds I find a milk vending machine. Fresh, cold, regional milk.
I purchase a bottle and fill it with a pint of the delicious soft drink, gulp it down right away.
I would like to find machines like this more often.
On the other side of the river another campsite is awaiting me for the night.

Day 110 – to Cuisery

The Saône to my right only a faint memory, I walk another day along the main streets in high summer heat.
When around six I reach the campsite in Cuisery the young woman behind the bar, which also serves as reception, without many words hand me a bottle of cold water from the fridge and then another one. That was sorely needed.
Having cooled down a few degrees, we talk and she tells me that she also likes to travel alone. Currently she has her tent set up at the campsite, to work here for a few weeks. Then it’s back out into nature, to hike or kayak. Mostly alone.
For the first time on this trip, I decide that it is time for the ¨African air condition¨. I step into the shower fully dresses and in the following two hours enjoy the coolness that surrounds me. Who needs a pool?
For dinner I take my orange food bag and head to the bar. The few tables with chairs outside provide the only seating for me on the small campsite. I prepare the usual half baguette with a can of paté . In addition I treat myself to two slices of toast cheese.
I have barely taken the first bite, when the owner of the place shows up at my table.
¨What are you about to eat there?¨ he enquires.
I explain my meal.
He is anything but enthusiastic. Cold paté ? Untoasted toast cheese? Impossible! He offers to make me a real Sandwich.
I tell him that I could not afford it, and tell him about my journey.
He shakes his head. I was invited. Would chicken be OK?
For sure!
After a few minutes he returns, in one hand a beer, in the other a plate of chips. Whether I would prefer a salad with liver and ham?
If it’s not too much trouble.
Not at all.
So I eat a big plate of salad, with a pile of fried chicken livers and bacon strips.
Crème brûlée . If it’s not too much trouble.
Not at all.
As I thank him, my host shakes his head again: He had the highest respect for young people like me, that would head out on such endeavours.
Full and satisfied I retire to my tent.

Day 111 – to Pont-de-Vaux

Continuing along the D933 I reach Pont-de-Vaux in the late afternoon. The campsite here is huge. I look for a small space under trees and next to the games room. At last an opportunity to shamelessly charge tablet, cell phone and the external battery.
Since it’s hot again today, I decide to make a pilgrimage to the nearby Carrefour to buy ice cream. A four-pack of chocolate ice cream in small cups is cheaper than a Magnum. I sit down in the shade of a playground to empty of the first two cups. When a couple with a little girl joins me, I offer the remaining two cups. They refuse. So I quickly eat those as well. Before they melt.

Day 112 – Pont-de-Vaux

In the early morning hours, before the sun rises, the familiar noise is back. Rain pattering on my tent.
I have everything I need right here. On the other hand, I do not yet have a place to stay in Lyon. So why not stay and escape the rain for a day?
I spend the day in the games room and write my diary.

Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

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